Source: Free agent Ezekiel Elliott visiting Patriots

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Free agent running back Ezekiel Elliott visited the New England Patriots on Saturday, a source confirmed to ESPN.

Patriots coach Bill Belichick spoke directly to Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones for insight and evaluation of the former two-time NFL rushing champion before inviting the running back to to meet, a source told ESPN's Ed Werder.

Elliott, who was released by the Dallas Cowboys on March 15 in a salary cap move, had a career-low 876 rushing yards in 2022, but he scored 12 touchdowns and remained a top short-yardage back and pass protector.

That is a potential role that the Patriots, who are preparing to practice in full pads early next week with a heavy emphasis on the running game, could be looking to fill.

This is Elliott's first free agent visit since he was released by the Cowboys. His visit to the Patriots was first reported by Jordan Schultz.

Third-year pro Rhamondre Stevenson is the Patriots' top running back, but the depth behind him was thin entering training camp. The team had released James Robinson in June and never filled his spot on the depth chart. Then, on the second day of training camp, veteran Ty Montgomery left practice with an undisclosed left leg/knee injury.

That has left second-year running backs Pierre Strong and Kevin Harris and third-year player J.J. Taylor as the lone options behind Stevenson.

Last week, the Patriots hosted free agents Leonard Fournette and Darrell Henderson.

The Patriots have also been linked to free agent Dalvin Cook, who is scheduled to visit with the New York Jets in the coming days.

"Dalvin's another player, this is a really, really unique situation -- you don't typically have players of this caliber available at this time," director of player personnel Matt Groh said Wednesday. "We saw firsthand last year going up to Minnesota on Thanksgiving what he can do."

Stevenson, who led the Patriots last season with 1,040 rushing yards on 210 carries, said Friday that he is open to the team bringing in help.

"I'm totally confident in our room right now, but if we get another one, I'm with that too," he said.

Elliott, who turned 28 last week, has been slowed by injuries over the past two seasons and has topped 1,000 rushing yards just once (2021) in the past three. He finished his career with the Cowboys with 1,881 carries for 8,262 yards and 68 rushing touchdowns. He also caught 305 passes for 2,336 yards and 12 touchdowns.